It was a good kitchen friend….

Krups rice cooker IMG_3796I’m sure that you’ve gathered from my posts that I really like my Krups multifunction pot: rice cooker, steamer, slow cooker, and even a bit of sous vide thrown in. It was a good kitchen friend…and I hope to pass it on to someone who will care for it as much as I did since it’s still in good working condition.

Some time ago a friend loaned me his “extra” pressure cooker, and I like it a lot. I kept thinking that as much as I used beans that it would be useful for me to have a pressure cooker–not just because of the beans, but because it would be a good way to do summer cooking when I don’t want to tax the air conditioning; however, I just never got around to adding another thing to the kitchen. I even decided which I would buy when I did add it. A Fagor that could be used with an induction unit. As a proficient procrastinator, I just never got around to buy the pressure cooker. Now I’m glad that I didn’t.

I did add the DASH yogurt maker (yes, homemade is better) to my batterie de cuisine and I’m glad that I did, but that, too, is going to a new home where it will be appreciated.  Are you wondering yet what is going on in my kitchen?

 

You’ve probably guessed–the Instant Pot has invaded my kitchen. I’ve now had it for eleven days (as of 01 October 2017). It did not linger in the box. It was unpacked and used the day after it arrived. So far it has been used at least once a day every day that it has been here.

This wasn’t a spur of the moment purchase. I did a lot of research before I decided to purchase one, and a lot more before I decided which one I wanted to buy. I read a lot of reviews, perused a lot of recipes, checked out the Facebook Instant Pot Community, and went so far as reading America’s Test Kitchen/Cook’s Illustrated reviews of the multifunction cookers which were pretty damning)–but I bought it anyway because I think that once I “get a feel” for how it works it will be a great kitchen appliance.

I’ve made my lamb and garbanzo bean stew in it, cooked my steel-cut oatmeal in it, made soup, and a number of other things already. Yes, there is a bit of a learning curve in terms of seasonings, but I find it really pretty intuitive (although I did let my OCD show and read the manual). So far I’m pleased with this new addition to my kitchen. It would appear that a few other single-use appliances will need to find new homes–even the egg cooker.

My morning breakfast quandary of food versus functionality has been solved. I think that one of the most pleasurable things since cool weather has finally arrived here is my morning bowl of steel-cut oatmeal. Frankie, the cat, has steadfastly refused to cook it. I’m often working before I’m ready to cook. Now the Instant Pot has taken over that job. Using the “pot-in-pot” technique (which was one idea that helped persuade me that I needed the Instant Pot) I can put breakfast on before I go to bed, and it’s hot and ready to eat when I’ve finished my first round of cafe latte.

Another plus for me was that the Instant Pot has a stainless steel liner (so you can saute right in the pot)’. The Krupps multifunction pot to which I am bidding farewell had a nonstick liner so required some care in using it. (Yes, I’ll give the stainless steel inner pot due respect to that it doesn’t get scratched up, too–because that’s just the way good cookware should be treated.)

So–at this point, despite its yeoman’s service in my kitchen for quite a number of years, this is a requiem for that useful appliance–and hope to find it a good home and I’ll be embarking on more cooking adventures with the Instant Pot.

—Ô¿Ô—

P.S.  It remains in my kitchen for the sole purpose of taking the mashed potatoes to our Thanksgiving Day gathering since it does that better than the Instant Pot–it’s a bit lighter and easier to tote around.

Ò¿Ó

 

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Always Hungry? What’s in the pantry?

I don’t do meal planning well…I don’t like to do meal planning.  I’d much rather be spontaneous about my cooking and eating. Okay, I’m a picky eater–my appetite varies with the weather, the season, and even mood. While I’m managing to be moderately successful with the Always Hungry? meal plans, I really appreciate the “how to” section for each phase. It gives me much more freedom to cook what I want to eat. Even so, I’m looking forward to getting past the first two weeks of Phase 2 when I can do even more improvisation. Besides weight loss, one benefit of reading the book and starting this has been a close look in the pantry. In my pantry inventory, I found very few items that were on the discard list so doing without a lot of the prepared or processed things was not really a big issue.

I’m fortunate that from where I live it’s easy for me to stop at the grocery store on my way to and from other errands, so I tend to shop for perishable several times a week–check out the market and see what looks good: meal planning on my feet.  There is a farmers’ market close to me that is open on Wednesday evenings and one on Saturday mornings.

Many times I cook without a recipe and improvise something from what is in the house; improvisation is much easier if you have a well-stocked kitchen and pantry.My only purchase that was specific for the Always Hungry meal plan was the whey protein. That may remain in my pantry after Phase 2 is over–shakes for breakfast work well for me since I really don’t want major food first thing in the morning.  The Stahlbush Island Farms frozen berries have been a huge help with these when fresh berries aren’t of best quality.

There are a number of  things that I almost always have around.  You can find lots of lists in cookbooks for things you “should” always have on hand, but all of those lists need to be modified to suit your tastes.  If you hate anchovies, then there is not much point in having those in the pantry.  I may not want to eat them on a sandwich, but they can add a very subtle, rich background flavor to vegetables like broccoli–used in very small quantities they won’t scream “fishy” at you, and they can stand in for nam pla in providing umami.

Though I do shop for perishables frequently, I want to be able to prepare a meal even if it’s so hot that I just cannot face going outside, so I  keep a reasonably well-stocked freezer, refrigerator, and pantry. Even just from the canned (not many things) and dried goods, I could produce a meal at the drop of a hat.  Canned tomatoes in several forms–diced, whole, fire-roasted (add a little smoky flavor to a dish) and quick sauces–are such a pantry staple that they need not get more than a passing mention.  Sun-dried tomatoes, a tube of tomato paste, capers, and roasted red peppers are some other things that get frequent use.

Some of these supplies also stand in for the emergency kit in case of hurricane or ice storm that results in a power outage.  Peanut butter is a staple, but that doesn’t mean that I want to have to pull that out of the cupboard for supper–that’s snack food or for breakfast on toast, or with slices of apple or stuffed into celery ribs.

Dry pasta is a great base for improvising, so it’s good to have several different shapes around to harmonize with what is going in it or on it.  Once the package is opened,  if the unused portion is transferred to a Ball or Kerr Mason jars so that it’s tightly sealed it will keep until the next time I need this particular pasta. It will be good to add that back into my meal (in moderation, of course).

Dried lentils are another pantry staple–they don’t need soaking before cooking; it’s so easy to make a side dish or a soup using them.  There are many kinds of lentils (as there are beans) that can easily add variety to your cooking and allow improvisation.  The basic “brown” lentil can be found in most supermarkets in the section with the dried beans and rice.  My favorite is  the French Le Puy lentil which are small and hold their shape well when cooked. If you use them often, it’s worth looking for other lentils such as small black, or Spanish brown lentils.  You might have to find a “gourmet” store, but these are worth having on hand as a pantry staple. Lentils combine well with rice or other grains, and can be cooked with rice, or alone, in the rice cooker.

Although it does take a bit of pre-planning cooking your own dried beans instead of using canned ones it is worth the effort, but canned beans are still a pantry necessity. Cooking your own has the advantage of controlling the amount of salt and seasonings.  (That is not to say that I don’t have canned beans of various kinds in the pantry–I do–and I would not want to be without them.)   Some heirloom beans and/or specialty beans have such different flavors that they are worth searching out.  You can soak and cook more than you need for a single serving and freeze them with some of the cooking liquid so that you have them for quick use when you haven’t planned ahead. (One of the reasons I’ve been able to stick with the Always Hungry meals as will as I have is that legumes are part of the program.)

barley and rice

Barley (left) & arborio rice (right)

Grains are another staple in my pantry: rice, barley, quinoa, and some of the commercially available mixes that provide variety in a convenient way.  Being able to add some of these in Phase 2 is so welcome!  Since I love polenta, but corn is off limits, I’m going to try the millet “polenta”, though I don’t expect it to replace the real thing.

Basmati rice (brown or white) is a favorite for long-grain rice.  Since risotto is a great way to improvise a meal,  arborio or another short-grain rice that is suitable for making risotto is on hand too. It’s good to use in soups as well.  Barley is also a grain that to have on hand at all times–it makes a hearty soup, it can be cooked like risotto, and it makes wonderful side dish instead of rice. Depending on the season,  bulgur and couscous, both the fine and the Israeli, are also likely found lurking on my pantry shelves. Especially in the summer, with tomatoes abundant, tabbouleh is quick, healthy, and easy as a salad or a side dish. There are so many good grains that we use all too infrequently, just waiting to be added to out diet.

Though not “dry” cans of broth/stock are good to have on the pantry shelves, right along with the canned beans.  As a further backup, something like Better Than Bouillon in whatever flavor you use most often–chicken is a good compromise.

American Tuna image of canOther helpers for improvisation, include good quality canned tuna (personal preference is for oil packed) which can make a salad heartier, or be used with pasta or beans for a main course salad. Sardines make a good meal with  crackers or bread and fruit. These are good staples in the emergency food kit (which should also contain a can opener–the manual variety) as well. Salmon is part of the pantry, too, for salad or for salmon cakes.

Some other ideas for “pantry” cooking recipes inspired me to add some canned goods to my emergency stash–but that doesn’t include using cream soups and the like for “dump” cooking–that doesn’t particularly appeal to me, but having some carefully selected cans on the shelf can be useful.

There are some freezer things that I have found particularly useful while using the Always Hungry? meal plan adapted for single-serving cooking: chopped kale and spinach, chopped onions lend themselves particularly well to getting green veggies into my breakfast. Instead of the formality of making a fritatta with veggies, I find making scrambled eggs with the veggies much easier and quicker. A handful of chopped onions, a handful of frozen chopped greens quickly sautéed before adding the eggs does the job in a way that fits my morning functionality. If there are some cherry tomatoes lurking in the kitchen, those go in as well. Between supplying that quick handful, the opened bags live inside a zipper-lock freezer bag, right back in the freezer for quick access. I find that i use them so frequently that I don’t even do the vacuum seal–just pressing as much air as possible from the freezer bag will do fine since I buy the smaller bags and use them quickly. Now that I can add starchy vegetables in small quantities I’ve found that the Stahlbush Island Farms frozen butternut squash, sweet potatoes, and beets are good to have for use a handful at a time.

In anticipation of maintaining the weight loss the I have achieved so far (and hope to achieve in Phase 2) there have been two additions to the pantry–the whey protein, and chickpea flour. In addition to the recipes with the meal plan for waffles/pancakes that use chickpea flour, I’m experimenting with making my own crackers from that, rather than the usual wheat-based ones that I like to have around to go with the pickled herring or cheese. Here’s to maintaining weight loss, eating in a healthier way, and enjoying good food.

A son goût!

 

My fat cells and I

It’s amazing how easy it is to ignore what the scales, the mirror, the doctor, and clothes are telling you–until you get a look as others see you–a video of you going about your normal activity. As you watch, it’s more like watching another person, and you have a sudden OMG-it’s-really-true moment. You suddenly know that the time has come–that repeated New Year’s resolution that you’ve “renewed” umpteen times and not kept must finally be faced. (Hotel bathroom mirrors are almost as revealing–big, usually with door mirrors too so you get an all-around look in really bright light, too.)

You review all the experience that you’ve had with “diets”–the Atkins (worked like a charm but not sustainable because of the ban on fruit, beans, milk, and dairy products except cheese. The New Atkins–for the same reasons. You read the books evaluating low-carbohydrate and low-fat diets, high-protein, Mediterranean diet, and the French Paradox and feel like a real wuss because you’ve not been able to keep to the latest thing you’ve tried. You even check sites that have BMI computations available–everyone gives you the same answer: you’ve moved over from the overweight into the “obese” range. Then there’s the video–wonderful hive inspection but the beekeeper.

9781455533862I bought the latest diet book on the market–the day it was released–Always Hungry?.  I read it, and think about it, and then I saw myself in a video, And the jig is up! You know you’ve deluded yourself when looking in the mirror, looking at photographs, and feeling how your clothes fit.

So reread the book–really read the book (including the recipes and the meal plans). To add motivation, (since the book discusses movement) I’ve dug in the “junk” basket on the bookcase shelf, and in the drawer where stuff accumulates and, finally, found the pedometer. Now I have numbers to show how truly sedentary I truly am! Scary.

Back to this food plan. Refined sugars are a no=no, but that’s not a real problem because your sweet tooth is chocolate dependent. Soft drinks are not in the in this house fridge anyway. But there are pasta and beans on the pantry shelf. From experience I know I  like (maybe even love) complex carbohydrates, aka starches. Those and milk have been the stumbling blocks every time before–but this food plan allows legumes and milk even in the initial phase. There’s one ounce of dark chocolate allowed daily even in Phase 1. This “diet” for weight loss is a plan for moderation. Phases 2 and 3  (essential since you really, truly like food) allows judicious reintroduction of some of the things you most like (baked white potatoes), at least on an occasional basis and still maintain weight loss.

Since some basic sauces are essential for the food plan, I decided to start with some that would need routine weekly preparation and those that I thought I would like particularly well, to give me an idea of how things the recipes are seasoned.

After reviewing the list of permitted foods (again), this book moves to the kitchen. Trying some of the recipes since in the past food plans have always seemed too contrived. Well, the recipe for Blue Cheese Dressing (All Phases) on page 263 seems like a good place to start since it is a favorite. Can’t you eat the lettuce so you can have the blue cheese dressing? Recommended to make a wide-mouth mason jar (have) and immersion blender (have). The prep time estimate was accurate–really fast and easy.. (Since blue cheese is a strong flavor, I prefer more tartness, so I replaced the tablespoon of water with an additional tablespoon of lemon juice.  Tastes splendid so score one for the food plan Bring on the crudities. This sauce is a keeper even if it is on a food plan for weight loss!

So one tasty recipe doesn’t make it acceptable. I like (and make at home often) vinaigrettes and use oil and vinegar dressings. The Lemon Olive Oil Dressing (All Phases), page 269, is straightforward and a good balance of olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. If you make this in tandem with the blue cheese, you don’t have miscellaneous bits of leftover lemon.

[There’s a bonus to using mason jars–they have gradations on the sides so with just a bit of planning you won’t even have to wash a measuring cup. If you use a kitchen scale, you might not even need measuring spoons. (I’ve noted weights of things like 2 tablespoons of lemon juice with the recipes).]

Next  for testing,  I chose Creamy Dill Sauce (All Phases). This sauce is a bit more complicated than the first two but noted to keep for 1 to 2 weeks in the refrigerator. Again, using a mason jar and scales it was easy to put together.Knowing that I tend to find many recipes under-seasoned, and over-salted, I did use 2 small garlic cloves, substituted 1/4 teaspoon of smoked Spanish paprika for the “dash of paprika” called for in the recipe. I found it a bit lacking in the lemon flavor with only the lemon juice, so I added 1/2 teaspoon of lemon zest. After allowing it to stand for a few hours, I was pleased with the tart dill, lemon, and slightly smoky flavors. (This is easily modifiable without changing the balance of protein/fat–ancho chili or Aleppo pepper could be used.

The final sauce that I made to test was Lemon Tahini (All Phases), page 269. Taking my taste for garlic and tartness into account, I used a large clove of garlic, 2 tablespoons extra lemon juice, and 1 teaspoon of lemon zest.

My clean up after making these sauces (in very close to the prep time given in the book and with a little more experience and organization I’m sure I can decrease that):

  • one chef’s knife
  • one cutting board
  • one set of measuring spoons
  • one spatula for scraping down the side of jars
  • immersion blender
  • microplane grater (for lemon zest)
  • one citrus reamer

I can certainly deal with that. Leftover from this prep, one lemon minus zest (lack of organization on my part–next time I’ll just zest all the lemons before squeezing them)

I didn’t have to buy anything that wasn’t already in my pantry except dill and parsley, but since it’s winter, that’s not a negative thing. I’m certainly not going to have to rearrange my kitchen to accommodate, although the immersion blender will need to live somewhere slightly more accessible.

Sauces, as important as they are, don’t make a meal plan. The recipe for Broiled Fish with Garlic and Lemon (All Phases), page 232, looks like a good way to start testing the main dish recipes. It is simple, and besides, it’s very easy to cook fish, although I don’t use the broiler much–but this recipe works as well as those for the sauces. The serving of cod fillet that I cooked with this recipe was for one–so only about 6 ounces. In order not to overcook the fish, I seared on only one side and then finished under the broiler. . I broiled the fish for 8 minutes (the minimum time suggested in the recipe). Broiling it on the lemon slices with the olive oil and garlic worked: nicely garlicky and great lemon flavor. This is another keeper!

Three things that are called for frequently are mayonnaise and  Ranchero Sauce, page 272. I’m going to opt out of those since I can get a palatable mayonnaise made without sugar (that I usually buy anyway) and I have a favorite salsa that lacks sugar in the ingredient list.My local Harris Teeter grocery has a store brand hummus that is without sugar, so I’ll likely also opt to use that instead of making it at home.(There are resources on the  website  to facilitate the plan.)

Now that I have a feel for the seasoning used in these dishes I think I can use many of the recipes provided with the meal plan without having to alter my pantry much at all. After looking at other recipes, I find several that I am looking forward to trying: Ginger-Carrot Soup (All Phases), Red Lentil Soup (All Phases)Chocolate Sauce (All Phases), and Cabbage Casserole (All Phases). A lot of these recipes lend themselves easily to improvisation with herbs and spices, too–another plus for preventing boredom.

There’s only one “special” thing I have to buy–whey protein for the occasional Phase 1 Power Shake. Because of the stress on the balance of macronutrients emphasized in each phase, I will do that. (The thing sounds good when you consider what else is in it).

After rereading the permitted foods, I’ve decided I can do without pasta if I can have legumes and the prospect of adding some pasta and bread in later Phases 2 and 3. With my physician’s words bouncing around in my brain, and that horrible BMI, I CAN do this. It’s about moderation–and chocolate, whipped cream, and wine (after Phase 1) are allowed. It’s about moderation and balance of the amount and quality of protein, carbohydrate, and fats consumed. It’s also about not having to revamp my pantry or suffer deprivation.

This project has to involve getting off my butt and doing more walking and movement, too! That’s likely to take more effort than eating the right things, given how sedentary my work is. But, needs must!

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°

There is a lead-in phase where you get ready–for three of those days I’ll be on the road or at a convention, but once back home, this starts. No more procrastination!  After sampling the sauce recipes and the broiled fish, I certainly feel more positive about the meal plans that I ever have about any other weight-loss meal plan. (The blue cheese sauce added to egg salad is good–lots of room for improvisation with the recipes, still keeping the macronutrient balance.

I’ll admit to one slight frustration with this book: recipes are listed by name under an entry for “recipes”. Cabbage Casserole appears just where you’d expect it. Coleslaw you will find only if you look for “Tangy Coleslaw”. When trying to locate the recipe for the fish, I couldn’t remember the specific name–fortunately, broiled was in the title so it was close to the first of the list.

Though the main focus is not as a cookbook, but on nutrition and weight loss (index very useful for this), just a few simple entries throughout for main ingredients such as “cabbage”, “polenta”, or “shrimp” would be helpful. But, I shouldn’t complain–I know space considerations often dictate what can be included or what must be cut. I’d happily settle for smaller print in the index (even if it meant getting out my reading glasses) to have those extra entries.

 

 

Braised lamb shanks

Continuing my freezer clean-out, I discovered two lovely lamb shanks that I must admit, I had forgotten were in there.  The weather that we’re having now just begs for comfort food, so I decided to make braised lamb shanks and the shanks beg for white beans to accompany them.

Starting with a recipe for braised lamb shanks and white beans that I knew worked well I still perused recipes from some other reputable sources (Williams-Sonoma, Food and Wine, and The New York Times). My lazy side came to the front and I decided that I wanted to do this all in one pot–so I went with the New York Times recipe–except I used thyme instead of rosemary and scaled the recipe for two lamb shanks.

Then I decided to follow a favorite principle of mine in cooking: never do on the stovetop what you can do in the oven (extremely hot weather will modify this). After bringing the pot to a simmer on the stovetop, I popped the pot into a 275°F oven for a few hours–low and slow since this is supper for tomorrow, likely with a grilled (well, broiled given the weather) cabbage wedge for a side.

Even for two shanks, this comes out to be a lot of food, so I’m looking forward to putting some into the freezer for another rainy day meal when I’m feeling indolent.

#LovePulses and take the pledge

Another informative post on an underutilized and versatile food source. Even if you don’t wish to take the pledge, please read! Look at the nutrition data. If you cook your own, the preparation  may take planning and time but it’s not labor intensive. Canned beans are an option to help use this food group.

one taste at a time

The 68th UN General Assembly declared 2016 the year of Pulses, which are the edible seeds of plants in the legume family. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) officially recognizes 11 specific types of pulses, but they can generally be encompassed in 4 groups: dry peas, beans, lentils, and chickpeas.

Referred to as “nutritious seeds for a sustainable future,” these superfoods pack an impressive nutritional punch. Not only are they loaded with protein, fiber, iron, potassium, folate, and antioxidants, but they’re also cholesterol, sodium, and gluten-free.

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Moroccan-Style Quinoa with Chickpeas and Kale redux

Frozen kaleIn my post about trying a recipe from an America’s Test Kitchen (ATK) I expressed my dissatisfaction with the balance between the kale and the rest of the ingredients.  I think I may have stumbled on a partial solution.

I’m admitting that in single-serving cooking I use frozen vegetables. One reason is that I can put the “leftovers” back into the freezer and not be pressured to use the rest of it right away–I’ll also admit to being a picky eater, par excellence as you’ve probably figured out.  Note my comments on meal planning.

Another is the nutritional value and quality of GOOD frozen products–we’re not talking “heat-‘n’-eat” here.  We’re talking fruits, vegetables, perhaps fish, etc. I don’t mean that I don’t buy fresh from local suppliers, but probably frozen is better than not bringing home fresh kale because it’s packaged (even at the Farmers’ Market) in a huge bunch that just doesn’t work for me.  (Cat just doesn’t eat enough vegetables for that to work, just like he doesn’t help with dust-bunny control).

I made this again, adjusting the seasoning–mostly just adding more of what was called for–but using the frozen kale from Stahlbush Island Farms and it was not overwhelmed by the kale. (Their website says it’s curly kale, but it must be younger leaves that what I had before.)  There will definitely be more of their kale in my freezer and I’ll make this again with these adjustments.

 

Lamb leg steak–continued

lamb leg steak on plate with ratatouilleThat lamb leg steak that I cooked a couple days ago was a big steak–weighing in just a bit under a pound. That’s a lot of meat–couldn’t possibly eat all that at one time.  As vehement as I’ve been about not liking, or dealing well with leftovers,  that does not apply here.  I don’t really consider the part of this steak that I didn’t eat then as undesirable. I couldn’t have that luscious steak without some left for other uses–not when it needs to be at least an inch thick to cook well. You’re wondering what happens to the rest of this steak?

Often the remains of a beef steak or a pork chop goes into a sandwich–since roast beef, lamb, or pork is not on the single-serving menu. Other times it does some metamorphic changes.  The remainder of this steak went into the rice cooker with a convenience mix of grains,  some garbanzo beans to give me some additional meals that were not meat-centric.

Ingredients

  • about 1/2 pound of cooked lamb steak, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • one 15-ounce can garbanzo beans with liquid
  • one 10 ounce can of diced tomatoes with jalapeños with liquid
  • 1 cup of brown basmati rice, red rice, barley, and rye berry mixture (uncooked)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 teaspoons dried Turkish oregano
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 to 1-1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 cup water (to bring total liquid to amount required for grains)

Preparation

  • Add all ingredients to rice/multi-cooker, stir well.
  • Set on rice cooking mode.
  • When cycle finishes, check grain for doneness.  If needed add more water in 1/2 cup increments until grains are done.

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Since the lamb steak had been well-browned on the griddle, it provided good rich flavor for the grains and the garbanzo beans.  Some of this was an extra meal (with a side of ratatouille), and the rest was packed (with the Handi-Vac®) for the freezer for later (especially cooler weather) meals.

mixed grains with tomatoes and lamb